Friday, January 20, 2006

Return to "Nebraska"

Springsteen makes surprise appearance at guitar fest

Monday, January 16, 2006
Newark Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- No one has ever sounded more alone than Bruce Springsteen did on his 1982 "Nebraska" album, which was dominated by bleak, minimally arranged ballads. "Deliver me from nowhere," he sang, and that's precisely where it sounded like he was.

Saturday night at the World Financial Center Winter Garden, a community of musicians joined Springsteen in that nowhere. The free "Nebraska Project" concert, which kicked off the 2006 New York Guitar Festival, featured covers of "Nebraska" songs by rock, folk, country and blues artists, as well as a surprise appearance by Springsteen himself.

The Boss waited until the end of the show to make his entrance, and led the ensemble through the encore, a rousing cover of Woody Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills." (Guthrie was a huge influence on "Nebraska.")

About 20 musicians joined Springsteen, who played acoustic guitar and sang lead on two verses, reading the words off a piece of paper. Appropriately enough for a guitar festival, there were plenty of the six-stringed instruments onstage. But this was probably the first version of "Oklahoma Hills" to also feature a tuba (played by George Rush, who had previously backed singer-guitarists Dan Zanes and Vernon Reid on "State Trooper") and a boisterous trumpet solo (by Rich Armstrong, who had played the instrument on Michelle Shocked's cover of the "Nebraska" title track).

The concert featured the "Nebraska" songs in the album's original running order. There were also some instrumental interludes not related to "Nebraska," and covers of two other Springsteen songs: "Born in the USA" (which had been considered for "Nebraska," but became the title track of his next album) and "I'm On Fire."

Jen Chapin's "Born in the USA" was arguably the concert's biggest revelation. It was a guitar-free version, featuring just her voice and standup bass playing by her husband, Stephan Crump. Her grim, focused singing brought the song's tragic lyrics into sharp focus, and Crump's jazzy bass playing was absorbing in its own right.

The Shocked/Armstrong "Nebraska" was also a highlight. Armstrong had plenty of room to solo and added a yearning flavor, somewhat reminiscent of another Springsteen song, "Meeting Across the River."

Marc Anthony Thompson (a k a Chocolate Genius Inc.) slowed down "Johnny 99," making it sound unprecedentedly sad and dreamlike. Kevin Kinney (of Drivin' N' Cryin') and Lenny Kaye (of Patti Smith's band) added an upbeat country-gospel coda to "Reason to Believe."

Mark Eitzel's rich, resonant voice fit "My Father's House" perfectly. Using loops, guitarist Gary Lucas created an extravagantly blaring wall of sound during one of the instrumental interludes.
Less successfully, Martha Wainwright brought an emotionally raw quality to "Highway Patrolman" that didn't fit the song's stoic lyrics, and the spooky "State Trooper" didn't benefit from the loose funk arrangement Zanes and Reid gave it.

Between numbers, the show's MC John Platt -- a disc jockey on radio station WFUV (90.7 FM) -- discussed the making of the "Nebraska" album and asked the artists to talk about "Nebraska," and their upcoming projects.
At times, these segments were jarringly out of place in a show full of such uncompromising music. "What is the name of your forthcoming album, and when should we expect it?," Platt asked Chapin, after her masterful "Born in the USA." Eitzel's short answers made it clear he had no interest in cooperating.

New York Guitar Festival shows take place at various venues through Feb. 8. For information, visit

Appreciation: Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett, 64, Soul Singer of Great Passion, Dies

The New York Times
January 20, 2006

Wilson Pickett, the soul music pioneer whose insistent wail turned songs like "In the Midnight Hour" into hits, died yesterday in Virginia. He was 64.

The cause was a heart attack, Margo Lewis, his manager, said. She added that Mr. Pickett had spent the twilight of his career playing dozens of concert dates a year, but had finally started an extended hiatus last year as his health began to worsen.

Still, Mr. Pickett, who lived in Ashburn, Va., had enjoyed a series of accolades as he approached retirement. His first album in more than a decade - 1999's "It's Harder Now" - was honored with a Grammy nomination for best traditional rhythm and blues vocal performance. In 2000, he picked up three W. C. Handy Awards from the Blues Foundation, including one for comeback album of the year.

At the close of 2004, however, "we sort just said, 'Let's take a year off,' and eased him out of the responsibility of having to think about gigging," Ms. Lewis said. "It wasn't necessary for him financially."

Mr. Pickett had long since cemented his legacy; his shift from gospel music to rhythm and blues and soul led to a string of 1960's classics, including "Mustang Sally," "Land of 1,000 Dances" and "634-5789."

Born in Prattville, Ala., Mr. Pickett was one of 11 children; he told interviewers that he had suffered an abusive childhood. As a teenager he moved to Detroit, where he formed a gospel band, the Violinaires, that performed in local churches.

But his chance at pop fame emerged in 1961, when he was invited to join the Falcons, an R & B act that had already scored a Top 20 hit, "You're So Fine."

While the Falcons enjoyed modest success, Mr. Pickett struck out on his own, recording the song "If You Need Me." His performance hit the market at roughly the same time the soul singer Solomon Burke released his own version. Still, both treatments sold well, and Mr. Pickett soon had a contract with Atlantic Records.

He quickly cranked out a series of hits, including one of his signature songs, "In the Midnight Hour." Most of his songs were recorded in either Memphis or Muscle Shoals, Ala., which at the time were the hotbeds of soul recording activity in the South. His sidemen included Southern musicians like the guitarist Steve Cropper (who co-wrote "Midnight Hour" and other songs with Mr. Pickett) and, later, the guitarist Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers.

He soon found himself with the nickname "Wicked Pickett" - which has been described as a reference both to his screaming delivery and to his offstage behavior.

He continued to record songs that would become part of the soul canon, including "Funky Broadway" and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." He also earned a reputation as one of music's most compelling live performers, delivering stage shows in which he mixed gospel-tinged solemnity with funk stylings that evoked James Brown.

Through the 1970's, Mr. Pickett reached beyond his own repertory, covering songs by Randy Newman ("Momma Told Me Not to Come"), Steppenwolf ("Born to Be Wild"), the Beatles ("Hey Jude") and even the Archies ("Sugar Sugar").

Like other soul performers, he found his star beginning to wane with the advent of disco and other genres in the 1970's. He enjoyed a revival of sorts in 1991, when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His music also featured prominently in the film "The Commitments," about a start-up Irish band seeking its fortune in soul music.

But he also suffered from a string of run-ins with the law. In 1991, he was arrested and charged with shouting death threats while driving his car over the mayor's front lawn in Englewood, N.J., where he lived at the time. About a year later he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. In 1993, Mr. Pickett was convicted of drunken driving, also in Englewood, and sentenced to a year in jail and five years' probation.

Reflecting on his career years after his chart performance had begun to slip, Mr. Pickett said he had once harbored mixed feelings about abandoning his gospel roots, fearing that "if you leave God and go to the devil, you're going to go to hell," as he told Rolling Stone. "You see, I wanted to sing gospel, but I wanted to make me some money, too."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ann Coulter: 'Chocolate City' Sprinkled With Nuts

January 19, 2006

So Hillary Clinton thinks the House of Representatives is being "run like a plantation." And, she added, "you know what I'm talking about."

First of all: Think about what a weird coincidence it is that Hillary would have made these remarks in a black church in Harlem on Martin Luther King Day. What are the odds? Did she even know it was a holiday? Bravely spoken, Senator. I haven't been this surprised since finding out Hollywood likes a movie about gay cowboys.

As Hillary explained, the House "has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard."

Yes, that's what was really missing on plantations during the slavery era: the opportunity to present a contrary view. Gosh, if only the slaves had been allowed to call for cloture votes. What a difference that would have made!

Madam Hillary also said the Bush administration "will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country." While Hillary is certainly qualified to comment on what the all-time worst presidential administrations were, having had firsthand experience in one of them, I think she might want to avoid the phrase "go down in history."

All I can say is: It's a good thing we had a stealth candidate like Harriet Miers to tiptoe past these powerful, scary Democrats! Sorry if that sounds churlish, but after Judge Samuel Alito's magnificent performance last week, I think Republicans can stop being afraid of their shadows when it comes to our judicial nominees.

Ever since Bork, Republicans have been terrified of nominating candidates with something in their background that might possibly suggest the nominee did not get down on his knees (another phrase Hillary should avoid) and thank God for Roe v. Wade every night. That's how we ended up with mediocrities like David Hackett Souter and Anthony "Third Choice" Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

Besides being stunningly qualified, the characteristics of the current stellar Supreme Court nominee include these:

His mother immediately told the press, "Of course he's against abortion."

He had expressed support for the Reagan administration's positions on abortion in a 1985 memo.

He refused to accede to the Democrats' endless browbeating and tell them that Roe was "settled law."

And the Democrats couldn't lay a finger on him. Sam Alito marks the final purging of the Bork experience.

All the Democrats could do was scream about his inactive membership -- back in the '70s -- in CAP, Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which had a magazine called Prospect, which once ran an article, apparently satirical, complaining about Princeton admitting co-eds. In my mind, the only potentially disqualifying aspect of Alito's record was that he wasn't a more active member of CAP, a group opposed to quotas, set-asides and the lowering of academic standards at Princeton.

Then this week, we found out Sen. Teddy Kennedy still belongs to an organization that doesn't admit women. Oh -- also, he killed a girl.

I'm fairly certain I've mentioned that before -- I don't recall, Mr. Chairman -- but I don't understand why everyone doesn't mention it every time Senator Drunkennedy has the audacity to talk about how "troubled" and "concerned" he is about this or that nominee. I bet Mary Jo was "troubled" and "concerned" about the senator leaving her in trapped in a car under water while he went back to the hotel to create an alibi.

It's not as if Democrats can say: OK, OK! The man paid a price! Let it go! He didn't pay a price. The Kopechne family paid a price. Kennedy weaved away scot-free.

But the Democrats are "troubled" about Sam Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton 30 years ago. If they're "concerned" about lifetime appointments for people with memberships in "troubling" organizations, wait until they hear about Bob Byrd! (Former Kleagle, Ku Klux Klan.)

They're a rotten bunch, these Democrats, and I'm happy to see an end to their reign of terror.

Now that Zell Miller is out of office, the only office-holding Democrat I like anymore is Ray Nagin, mayor of New Orleans. I had never heard of him until Hurricane Katrina, but after his "gaffe" this week, he's my favorite Democrat. I like a politician who casually spouts off insanely politically incorrect remarks in front of large audiences and TV cameras.

Nagin cheerfully told a crowd gathered for a Martin Luther King Day celebration that New Orleans would soon be "Chocolate City" again. I don't know who's supposed to be offended by that. I'm not. Perhaps all the white mayors who know they couldn't have said it. True, life's unfair. Oh well.

When it comes to choice-of-word crimes, I'd prefer detente to mutually assured destruction. Lead us off the chocolate plantation, Mayor Nagin!

Copyright 2005 Ann Coulter

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mark D. Tooley: A Gay Easter?

Gay-rights groups make covert plans to crash the annual White House Easter egg roll.
The Weekly Standard
01/17/2006 2:40:00 PM

FOR OVER A HUNDRED YEARS children have gathered on the South Lawn of the White House on the Monday after Easter to roll Easter eggs across the yard and meet the Easter Bunny. Seemingly few (if any) Washingtonians have ever tried to exploit the annual White House Easter Egg Roll for political purposes. Until now.

A church-based homosexual rights group is planning to crash the event with a "family visibility action" to spotlight their non-traditional families. "On April 17, 2006, when the White House lawn is opened to families for the Annual Easter Egg Roll, imagine if the first 1,000 families onto the lawn were LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] families," enthused a January 4 email alert from Soulforce. Once America sees the White House lawn awash in LGBT families, "there will be no going back," Soulforce promised.

Soulforce is the political organizing tool of self-described "militant gay activist" Mel White, the former Jerry Falwell speech writer who discovered his gayness and became a clergyman in the predominantly homosexual Metropolitan Community Churches. White and his supporters routinely show up at church conventions and other events to protest, perform acts of civil disobedience and demand that denominations change their teachings about homosexuality. They apply the "soul force" of principles from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi to the "struggle for justice for sexual minorities."

According to Soulforce, "LGBT" participants are being urged to gather at the White House gate the night before so as to be the first to enter the next morning. Volunteers will stand in line for "LGBT" parents who cannot do it themselves. Although Soulforce insists this will not be a political protest, only a gathering for families, its supporters will arrive with special "non-political" t-shirts to identify themselves as "LGBT."

THE WHITE HOUSE EASTER EGG ROLL dates back to Rutherford Hayes, who opened up the South Lawn to children after the Easter egg roll at the Capitol was shut down. In typical fashion, a fusty Congress became concerned about damage to its lawn and turned the kiddies away. President Hayes and his successors have been glad to compensate for Congress' lack of hospitality. Besides thousands of children and parents, the roll often includes prominent entertainers, the Easter Bunny, and sometimes the president and first lady. The Easter Egg Roll has remained non-controversial for too long, apparently.

Soulforce, in cooperation with other homosexuality advocacy groups, such as Family Pride, wants same-sex couples and other non-traditional "sexual minorities" to bring their children to the White House so as to expose America to "LGBT" families. "The media will be there (they are always there for the egg roll) and millions of Americans--many for the first time--will meet our families," the Soulforce email explained. "This is an amazing opportunity to reach homes in blue states and red states with positive images of our families participating in this great American family tradition."

Soulforce went on to promise: "This event will be like nothing anyone has ever seen before. The White House lawn--the Bush [italics in original] White House lawn--will, quite unexpectedly, be filled with gay and lesbian families. This is something people will be talking about for a long time, an event that will make history!" According to Soulforce, "It is time to claim our place at the table. Come to our nation's capital and let America see who we really are." Less any of its supporters be lacking in enthusiasm, the email promised: "It is basically going to be the biggest LGBT family party ever, you and your kids will have a great time." Recipients of the Soulforce email were asked to be "discreet" and not to post the information on websites because the "success of this action depends on keeping it under the radar of the media and the administration!!!"

OVER THE YEARS Soulforce has become well known for its disruptive demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience at the conventions of religious denominations that do not share its views on sexual ethics. Invariably these churches, even the liberal mainline ones, are portrayed by Soulforce as "anti-gay."

Soulforce's main partner in crashing the White House Easter Egg roll is the Family Pride Coalition (FPC), which is the "only national non-profit organization solely dedicated to equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) parents and their families." "There is no more powerful way to change the national discussion around our families and our rights than to introduce ourselves to our neighbors on a grand scale," the Family Pride Coalition promises on its website. "Join us in making history, having fun and showing off our amazing families to the country!" (Like Soulforce, the FPC also wants its members to be secretive about the plan. A passage on its page about the event reads: "Important Note: If word about this reaches the administration or any of our opponents, there may be an effort to keep our families from participating. Please tell as many LGBT families as possible about this event, but please DO NOT post a link to this page on a searchable website. It is fine though, to forward the link directly to LGBT families.")

Other sponsors of the Egg Roll crashing include: the Metropolitan Community Church, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), Love Makes a Family, the BLGT Office of the Unitarian Universalists, and the unofficial Reconciling Ministries Network within United Methodism. Soulforce and the Family Pride Coalition warned that if the Bush administrations gets wind of their special plans, the White House Egg Roll may be declared an invitation-only event. If somehow blocked from entrance, the "LGBT" families are encouraged to still stick around outside the White House and talk to the media.

When he invited in the children turned away from the Capitol's lawn, President Hayes probably had no idea of the controversy the White House Egg Roll would bestir more than a century later. Welcome to Easter 2006.

Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

© Copyright 2005, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

Michelle Malkin: The "D" Stands for Demagogue

January 18, 2006
Michelle Malkin

The freaks come out at night. The demagogues came out on Martin Luther King Day.

Democrat N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton, perhaps looking to distract attention from those pesky Code Pink protesters who've been dogging her over the Iraq war, commemorated the holiday by pulling a reverse Sister Souljah at race hustler Al Sharpton's pulpit in Harlem. The Canaan Baptist Church welcomed her pandering with what the Associated Press described as "thunderous applause."

When a Democrat politician stumps at a church, you see, it's "minority outreach." When a Republican politician stumps at a church, it's a theocratic outrage.

Asked to explain the difference between Democrats and Republicans, Hillary's response oozed with righteous flava (did Bill "Our first black president" Clinton help her practice?):

"For the last five years, we've had no. Power. At All. And that makes a big difference, because when you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation. And you know what I'm talkin' about. It has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary point of view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard. The Senate's not that bad. But it's been difficult. It's been difficult."

Yes, Hillary, we're living in the antebellum South all over again. Forget the existence of the raucus Congressional Black Caucus. Pay no attention to the ubiquitous Rep. Charlie Rangel on cable television and radio airwaves.
Look past the mainstream status bestowed on the fanatical black separatist Louis Farrakhan, most recently honored as Black Entertainment's person of the year. And ignore the true ideological plantation mentality that punishes every prominent conservative minority dissenter who strays from leftist orthodoxy.

What racial demagogic stunt will Hillary sink to next? Cornrows and a cameo on Bush-bashing rapper Kanye West's next album? Go on, girl. Go ahead. Get down.

While Hillary wallowed in Farrakhan-esque rhetoric about Republican slavemasters oppressing black people's right to be heard, Democrat New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin paid tribute to civil rights and the fight for equality by freely mouthing off about his racial dream -- a dream for a divinely ordained "chocolate" New Orleans:

"I don't care what people are saying [in predominantly white] Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be."

Asked by a local reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans to explain his remarks, Nagin sniffed condescendingly: "Do you know anything about chocolate? How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That's the chocolate I'm talkin' about."

Nagin reminds me of something else on the Dairy Queen menu: Nuts. But watch as the media swallow his weasel rationalizations whole.

These calculated moments of Democrat demagoguery illuminate liberalism's three-decade-old moral bankruptcy on issues of race. From the party's smearing of Clarence Thomas to the bigoted attacks on Condoleezza Rice and Maryland GOP Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, to its opposition to school choice for inner-city students and denigration of California businessman Ward Connerly's campaign against government racial preferences, to its latest desperate attempts to blame racism for Hurricane Katrina and to portray Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as a red-necked bigot, the Left has offered nothing but slime and obstructionism.

Yet, there isn't a day that goes by without Democrats effectively using the race card against their opponents in every political debate ranging from education to border security to the courts. It's time for conservatives, Republicans in Washington and minorities with half a brain to call their bluff. Stand up. Defend your honor. Don't let it pass.

You know what I'm talkin' about?

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

Charles Krauthammer: The Iran Charade, Part II

January 18, 2006
The Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer

"It was what made this EU Three approach so successful. They (Britain, France and Germany) stood together and they had one uniform position.''
-- German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Jan. 13, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Makes you want to weep. One day earlier, Britain, France and Germany admitted that their two years of talks to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program had collapsed. The Iranians had broken the seals on their nuclear facilities and were resuming activity in defiance of their pledges to the EU Three. This negotiating exercise, designed as an alternative to the U.S. approach of sanctioning Iran for its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, had proved entirely futile. If anything, the two-year hiatus gave Iran time to harden its nuclear facilities against bombardment, acquire new antiaircraft capacities and clandestinely advance its program.

With all this, the chancellor of Germany declares the exercise a success because the allies stuck together! The last such success was Dunkirk. Lots of solidarity there too.

Most dismaying was that this assessment comes from a genuinely good friend, the new German chancellor, who, unlike her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder (now a wholly owned Putin flunky working for Russia's state-run oil monopoly), actually wants to do something about terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

Ah, success. Instead of being years away from the point of no return for an Iranian bomb, as we were before we allowed Europe to divert anti-proliferation efforts into transparently useless talks, Iran is probably just months away. And now, of course, Iran is run by an even more radical government, led by a president who fervently believes in the imminence of the apocalypse.

Ah, success. Having delayed two years, we now have to deal with a set of fanatical Islamists that we know in advance will not be deterred from pursuing nuclear weapons by any sanctions.

Even if we could get real sanctions. Which we will not. The last remaining months before Iran goes nuclear are about to be frittered away in pursuit of this newest placebo.

First, because Russia and China will threaten to veto any serious sanctions. The Chinese in particular have secured in Iran a source of oil and gas outside the American sphere to feed their growing economy and are quite happy geopolitically to support a rogue power that -- like North Korea -- threatens, distracts and diminishes the power of China's chief global rival, the United States.

Second, because the Europeans have no appetite for real sanctions either. A travel ban on Iranian leaders would be a joke; they don't travel anyway. A cutoff of investment and high-tech trade from Europe would be a minor irritant to a country of 70 million people with the second largest oil reserves in the world and with oil at $60 a barrel. North Korea tolerated 2 million dead from starvation to get its nuclear weapons. Iran will tolerate a shortage of flat-screen TVs.

The only sanctions that might conceivably have any effect would be a boycott of Iranian oil. No one is even talking about that because no one can bear the thought of the oil shock that will instantly follow taking 4.2 million barrels a day off the market.

Indeed, the threat here works in reverse. It is the Iranians who have the world over a barrel. On Jan. 15, Iran's economy minister warned that Iran would retaliate for any sanctions by cutting its exports to ``raise oil prices beyond levels the West expects.'' A full cutoff could bring $100 oil and plunge the world into economic crisis.

Which is one of the reasons the Europeans are so mortified by the very thought of a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The problem is not just that they are spread out and hardened, making them difficult to find and to damage sufficiently to seriously set back Iran's program.

The problem that mortifies the Europeans is what Iran might do after such an attack -- not just cut off its own oil exports but shut down the Strait of Hormuz (through which nearly half of the world's export oil passes) by firing missiles at tankers or scuttling its own vessels to make the strait impassable. It would require an international armada led by the United States to break such a blockade.

Such consequences -- serious economic disruption and possible naval action -- are something a cocooned, aging, post-historic Europe cannot even contemplate. Which is why the Europeans have had their heads in the sand for two years. And why they will spend the little time remaining -- before a group of apocalyptic madmen go nuclear -- putting their heads back in the sand. And congratulating themselves on allied solidarity as they do so in unison.

© 2006, Washington Post Writers Group

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

W. Thomas Smith, Jr.: The Saddam-Al Qaeda Connection
Jan 16, 2006

The recent revelation by Stephen F. Hayes in The Weekly Standard that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had ties to – and was training thousands of – terrorists in the years prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is actually no revelation at all. It is being treated as such by many Americans, cautiously praised by the White House, and dismissed as groundless by those opposed to the war.

Don’t get me wrong: Hayes’ assertions are on the mark. But those with connections to the U.S. special operations community have long known that the pre-war link between Saddam and the Al Qaeda terrorist network is not only a fact, but one that had to be addressed as part of the global war on terror.

I first began writing about this in August 2004 after a conversation with a good friend of mine, Commander Mark Divine, a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who had just returned from Iraq, where he was tasked with evaluating joint operations between SEALs and a then-developing Marine Corps special ops team. Divine told me, and I subsequently reported in National Review Online, “There is tremendous evidence to suggest there were terrorist training camps in Iraq before 9/11.”

I also wrote about the publicly and journalistically glossed-over 9/11 Commission Report that clearly stated, “[Osama] bin Laden himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995.” Bin Laden asked the Iraqi official for weapons procurement assistance and – get this – permission to establish terrorist training facilities in Iraq.

Granted, the Commission did say, “There is no evidence that Iraq responded to this request.” But my question today is: what about any evidence to suggest Iraq did not respond? There is no such evidence, and to me that is a far more important question, considering the fact that the Commission concluded, “The ensuing years saw additional efforts to establish connections.”

Moreover, there was Ansar al Islam, an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group with training camps in Northern Iraq prior to 2003. This group was hoping to establish an Islamist state in Iraq. But the – again, rarely read – 9/11 Commission Report clearly states, “There are indications that [by 2001] the Iraqi regime tolerated and may even have helped Ansar al Islam against the common Kurdish enemy.”

But don’t take my word for it, or the Commission’s.

In her book, Masters of Chaos, author and U.S. News & World Report senior writer Linda Robinson describes an attack on Sargat – an enormously significant international terrorist training camp in northeastern Iraq, near the Iranian border. The camp was being run by Ansar al Islam, and based on Robinson’s conversations with the U.S. Army special operators who led the attack, it is indeed "more than plausible" that Al Qaeda members trained there.

“[A Special Forces sergeant] believed, given the heavy fortifications, ample weaponry, and quality of the fighters, that his team had just invaded the world’s largest existing terrorist training camp since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” writes Robinson. “This was no way-station, in his view. It was remote yet in the heart of the region, so radicals could wreak havoc all over the Middle East.”

According to Robinson, the American Green Berets discovered among the dead in Sargat: foreign ID cards, airline-ticket receipts, visas, and passports from Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, and Iran.

Sargat wasn’t the only terrorist camp discovered by U.S. forces.

As Hayes reported, “Secret training took place primarily at three camps — in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak — and was directed by elite Iraqi military units.”

At Salman Pak, a facility south of Baghdad, “videos and other materials turned up after the invasion that showed terrorist training footage, where the targets were clearly Americans, along with other Jihadist propaganda,” Divine, who also operates, told me last week, “If this were an Iraqi military training site, or even a secret police site, it would not have had Jihadist focus, nor been visited by Arab members of Al Qaeda, as had been reported by several intelligence agencies.”

About the time Divine and I were having our initial conversation about the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection, Dr. Walid Phares – a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and author of Future Jihad – was poring over captured Iraqi intelligence documents (written in Arabic).

Last week, Phares told me he concluded from the documents, “There obviously were connections and talks, not only between Baghdad and the Jihadists of Osama Bin Laden, but between other Arab regimes such as Sudan, Syria and officials in Saudi Arabia and the radical Islamists who would later form Al Qaeda. In this regional maze, everybody talks to everybody and explores possibilities, plans.”

This is key to understanding the nature of terrorist organizations in the Middle East: Alliances are often ad hoc, opposing groups often train together, and the terrorists themselves switch loyalties depending upon whose leading what organization and what propaganda is being fomented by whom. To think otherwise would be dangerous for America and the world. And those on both sides of the U.S. political divide recognize Phares’ grasp of the complexities of global terrorism, particularly as they relate to the complex relationships that have existed in the Middle East for thousands of years.

Phares, who regularly conducts Congressional and State Department briefings, added, “The Saddam-Al Qaeda cooperation was centered around weakening the U.N.-sponsored, U.S.-British-backed sanctions against Iraq. Al Qaeda would strike U.S. interests, prompting a U.S. withdrawal from the region. Iraq would in-turn provide some facilities and other services to Al Qaeda’s operatives and local allies without necessarily becoming their main supplier or strategic partner.”

Consequently, international terrorists like Jordanian-born Abu Musab al Zarqawi were able to access many locations in Iraq prior to 2003. If nothing else, Zarqawi’s direct links to both Al Qaeda and Ansar al Islam, directly linked post-invasion Iraq and Al Qaeda. There is simply no way around that.

But there is much more to consider than Zarqawi, his crowd, and their freedom-of-movement. Intelligence gathered since the U.S. invasion indicates that as early as the late 1990’s, Iraq’s Unit 999 (a special branch of the old regime’s army) was directly involved in the training of foreign terrorists inside Iraq. Intelligence about U.S. and other Western forces was shared between operatives of the Iraqi intelligence services and Al Qaeda. And foreign terrorists operating in the region (outside of Iraq) who needed medical attention or other support received it once inside Iraqi borders.

Additionally, previously positioned operators – the “connections” – would have been necessary to coordinate the reception of Al Qaeda operatives crossing into post-invasion Iraq. Any student of guerrilla operations knows the former must assist the latter to establish deep bases, recruit new members, and develop some semblance of trust in an untrusting tribal society.

So let’s forget for the moment any weapons of mass destruction (and the verdict is still out over whether or not WMDs were spirited across the borders). Forget the fact that Saddam was providing monetary support to the Palestinian families of suicide bombers. Forget the fact that he had violated umpteen U.N. resolutions since the end of Gulf War I. Forget the fact that his air-defense forces were regularly shooting at American and British pilots. Forget that he was a brutal dictatorial thug whose henchmen systematically raped, tortured, and murdered anyone who so much as hinted at any domestic political opposition. Forget all of the collaterally related geo-strategic reasons for gaining a foothold in the middle of the Islamist-fascist world during a global war against Middle-Eastern-based terrorism.

Instead, let’s consider the question that continues coming back to me:

Why is the White House not jumping all over the fact that terrorists were indeed training in pre-invasion Iraq as defensible proof of why we had no choice but to invade that country?

The answer is simple and unfortunate: Many in the mainstream media have been so successful at debunking any evidence, proof, or substantive facts as they relate to the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection, that any new information supporting any facts those of us in-the-know already know will simply be rejected. The new information will be seen as desperate backtracking on old ground. The White House, which is committed to winning the war, will be seen as being in a defensive mode regarding issues that now have no strategic or tactical relevance in the future prosecution of the war. And the general public, which has been fed a steady diet of Iraq-is-the-wrong-theater since 2003, no longer knows what to believe.

Opponents of the war say the only Al Qaeda elements in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion were those in Kurdish areas not controlled by Saddam. This simply is not so, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it is. And if so, would not the U.S. – as a critical front in the global war on terror – have to invade those areas to shut down the Al Qaeda cells? Of course. And that in itself would have been a far more dangerous “limited war” with Iraq involving a direct ground confrontation with Saddam’s army anyway.

“Those who have decided that the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection claims (along with WMD) were ginned up by Bush to bolster the rationale for going into Iraq, are so firmly invested in those beliefs that they wouldn't believe any corroborating evidence anyhow,” says Divine.

True, but the facts are still with us, and the evidence for those facts – now supported by a growing body of post-invasion intelligence – is getting stronger. And to be fair to Hayes, the confirmation by 11 government officials of some two-million “exploitable items,” including notes, documents, tapes, CDs, floppies, and hard drives connecting the dots, is indeed a new revelation reinforcing what we already knew.

“There were terrorists training in Iraq prior to our invasion of that country,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Bruce Blount, former chief of staff of Allied Forces Southern Europe, in a phone conversation on Friday. “No question about it. There also were many things Saddam was doing – money, passports, visas, you name it – to further the terrorists ability to operate in other places throughout the world.”

Even more disturbing is what U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson (R -S.C.) said to me back in September 2004: “If this is what we know, imagine what we don’t know.”

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a columnist.

Mark Helprin: The myth that shapes Bush's world

The Los Angeles Times
January 15, 2006

Mark Helprin is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. His novels include "A Soldier of the Great War" and "Winter's Tale."

THE PRESIDENT believes and often states, as if it were a self-evident truth, that "democracies are peaceful countries." This claim, which has been advanced in the past in regard to Christianity, socialism, Islam and ethical culture, is the postulate on which the foreign policy of the United States now rests. Balance of power, deterrence and punitive action have been abandoned in favor of a scheme to recast the political cultures of broad regions, something that would be difficult enough even with a flawless rationale because the power of even the most powerful country in the world is not adequate to transform the world at will.

Nor is the rationale flawless. It is possible to discover various statistical correlations among democracy and war and peace, depending on how they are defined and in what time frames. The chief pitfall in such social-science exercises is in weighing something such as, for example, the Mughal Campaign in Transoxiana, 1646-47, against something like, for example, World War II. Generally, a straightforward historical approach is better. And what does it show?

Even without reference to the case of a democracy that, finding self-defense insufficient justification and retaliation an insufficient end, makes war on a non-democracy so as to make the non-democracy a democracy, the postulate on which the president has in all good faith chosen to rely is contradicted by inconvenient fact.

Germany, the primary instigator of World War I, was a democracy. Although party governance weakened immediately before the war, it did so according to the popular will. When hostilities broke out, power flowed back to the Reichstag as a result of its increased belligerency in reaction to the threat of, perhaps ironically, nondemocratic Russia. Democratic Italy joined the entente because it had been spoiling for a fight to wrest South Tyrol from Austria. Extending its northern defenses to the natural Alpine barrier was obviously in Italy's interest, and popular sovereignty acted not as a break on war for this purpose but as a stimulus.

Less a democracy but a democracy nevertheless, Japan saw its parliamentary government wax and wane in the decades before World War II, losing eventually to the militarists but resurging as late as 1937 almost to regain control, with the Meiji Constitution unrepudiated and in force throughout the war.

What is one to make of the many 19th century colonial conquests on the part of democratic European powers? What is one to make of the Mexican and Spanish-American wars, in which, on the flimsiest pretexts, the United States, the leading democracy in the world, moved to war?
And, four score and five years after the American founding, the most destructive war in American history arose entirely from within, in belated and necessary fulfillment of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, documents unexcelled as the guide stars of democracy itself.Immediate counters to these examples might be that Prussian democracy is an oxymoron, Italian democracy was more feeble then than it is even now, the Japanese had made only a shadow play of Western constitutionalism, colonial conquests don't count because they had begun before the European democracies matured and were continued out of habit (oops, there goes the Congo; we did it again). And as for the United States, well, the Mexican War had something to do with Texas, the Spanish-American with the Maine, and at the time of the Civil War, not a single woman was able to vote and a large portion of the population was enslaved.

But such attempts at explaining the complexity of a democracy's relation to war — young democracies are ferocious, old ones serene; the extent and/or speed of economic development predisposes a democracy one way or another in regard to war and peace; as do limitation or extensions of the franchise; etc. etc. — tend to founder because the sample is simultaneously too varied and too small to produce valid rules. And that is just the point. It isn't that democracies are too old or too young or too fat or too thin, but that none is perfect and that, therefore, all are subject to forces that may override the theoretical peacefulness of representative governments. Even perfect democracies, which have never been and will never be, cannot offer the kind of Pax Democratica that the United States now seeks to construct among a group of states that are famous for their immunity to liberal governance.

Other than Israel, the major countries of the region that are the most democratic are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Kuwait. If democracy in Turkey and Pakistan could be drawn as a horse, it would have to have a soldier in the saddle. In Lebanon, it would have a Syrian in the saddle. And the more Turkey and Pakistan approach the genuine democracy to which American policy would direct them, the more Islamist they will become and the more they will want to do exactly the opposite of what we desire. The more Kuwait democratizes too, the more Islamist it becomes. In the 2003 elections, only 20% of contested seats went to neither traditionalists nor Islamists, and of late the democratically nascent governments of Iraq and Kuwait have had to erect a fence along their border to prevent Kuwaiti youth from crossing to join the insurgency.

Not only does the U.S. expend a great deal of effort to usher politically impure states into a form of popular sovereignty that will not stop them from acting inimically to our interests, but in distancing itself from authoritarian states that are willing to work with us, it forgoes potentially critical advantages. For the pleasure of displaying our virtue, we may someday suffer innumerable casualties in a terrorist attack that a compromised state might have helped us to prevent.In foreign policy, carelessness and confusion often lead to tragedy.
Thus, a maxim chosen to guide the course of a nation should be weighed in light of history and common sense.

Or is that too much to ask?